At the start of the pandemic, extraordinary measures were put in place to help vulnerable children, including extending free school meals when schools were partially closed. But even now schools are operating as normal, we must continue to find ways, alongside free school meals, to ensure children do not go hungry.
Free School Meals are intended to support children while they are learning but, during the holidays, families must also have a robust safety net, which can help them cope with the extra pressures of coronavirus. At the start of the pandemic, key benefits were boosted by over £1,000 per year for 12 months, part of a £9.3bn increase to the welfare safety net. I am also very supportive of the fact that Councils have been given £63m to help those families most in need, including supplying food if that is appropriate.
While there has been considerable coverage of what Parliament did not agree last week, there has been less attention to what it did agree and what I supported. Following the debate, MPs backed the existing emergency package of support measures for families which is worth billions on top of Free School Meals. Parliament also endorsed ongoing activities to help the most vulnerable children in society.
Furthermore, you may be interested to read the publication of the first part of the National Food Strategy, which will kick start a full review of our food system. A key recommendation of the review is to expand the number of eligible children for free school meals by an additional 1.5 million, taking the total number of children to 2.6 million. The coronavirus outbreak has made the importance of good nutrition for children even clearer and I am sure that Ministers will consider these recommendations carefully.
Finally, here in Kent, I am reassured to read the comments made over the weekend by Roger Gough, Leader of Kent County Council, who will be providing emergency assistance to families who are at risk throughout the current half term holiday. I have enclosed his full press release below, which includes details of how to get in touch with the Kent Together Helpline if you require support.
As the pandemic evolves, the Government must remain open to introducing additional support measures based on the need at the time. The Prime Minister has been clear today that the Government will do everything in its power to ensure no child goes hungry in the holidays. I expect the Government to work closely with local councils, charities and other businesses to ensure this is the case.
KCC Leader says children will not go hungry during half-term
The Leader of KCC says Kent’s most vulnerable families and children should not suffer hardship or hunger throughout this half term week, or at any time in their lives.
He says that help for anyone struggling to provide for their children is available, and that the need to ensure children from low-income families are fed through the school holidays has never been greater.
The authority supports thousands of children across Kent and further help is available through the Emergency Assistance Grant for those who need extra support.
Through the Kent Together Helpline, set up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak and working in partnership with District and Borough Councils, thousands of vulnerable people in Kent have already been supported and protected from hardship and isolation during the crisis.
“We and our partners have been working to provide emergency assistance to families most at risk,” said Roger Gough.
“I want to reassure anyone that needs financial assistance that this support is there and has always been there. And now, during this half term break, I want to ensure that those who need help and support are really able to get it.
“Whilst the last few months have presented many challenges, the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the strength of partnerships and community spirit, and this has helped us all in supporting those who are most vulnerable in our communities.
“I strongly encourage anyone who needs help, whether during this half-term or indeed at any time, to contact us for help.”
If your child is eligible for free school meals and you are in need of financial assistance this half term you can get in touch by visiting Kent.gov.uk/Kenttogether
You can also call the helpline on 03000 41 92 92